All Change! Curriculum and Performance Measures.

Friday 14th March saw a large number of the county’s deputies gather to discuss the current issues of curriculum design, assessment and performance measures. A high quality day with intense discussion and challenge ensued from the outset.

Mark Wignall and Matt Ashdown started by presenting Downlands’ account of the highs and lows of their journey to a A World Without Levels. This allowed us all to understand their experience of a model of assessment using GCSE grades from Year 7-11.  Students’ 5 year journey to their FFT generated target grade is tracked on a flight path focused on progress rather than attainment. Insightful questions from the room drilled down into this approach, appreciating the power of a focus on progress over attainment. Others had also found the flight path approach or journey towards target was very powerful with both students and parents. There was however, a universal agreement that whatever system we implement there is a fundamental need to be able to trust the professional judgements on progress being made.

Across the county other “no levels” models are emerging. East Worthing secondary’s are working with primary colleagues cross stage, to see if they can work backwards, looking at transferable skills which might develop into a language of assessment. In the north of the county, The Weald are developing a mastery curriculum with primaries, working on key concepts in each subject, exploring opportunities for statements summarising core skills and an assessment language leading to mastery. Both models are clear that this will take time but clearly West Sussex schools are not afraid to be creative, innovative and work collaboratively with a range of stakeholders to achieve the right outcome for our students.

Tom Middlehurst (Head of Research SSAT) then led a discussion on Principled Curriculum Design based on Dylan Wiliam’s Redesigning Schooling presentation. A vital consideration for all schools, as by September we have a statutory need to detail our school curriculum on websites by September. Tom reminded us that by curriculum we do not mean the ring binders of a prescribed national curriculum but the reality of the everyday experience lived by students and created by teachers.  In the words of Dylan “Pedagogy trumps Curriculum” every time. Overall, he suggests a curriculum approached through 7 principles

  1. Balanced.
  2. Rigorous
  3. Coherent
  4. Vertically integrated.
  5. Appropriate.
  6. Focused.
  7. Relevant.

Therefore, when designing our curriculum there is an equal challenge to ensure it reflects core purpose and principles as well as meeting the needs of new performance measures (Update for Heads on Curriculum Update from 15.3.14)

Performance measures were the topic of the afternoon with Tim Leunig. Tim is an economist at the London School of Economics, currently working as Ministerial Policy Adviser at the Department for Education and one of the architects behind Progress 8 and the new performance measures. Apart from an obvious serious intellect, Tim showed both wit and warmth underpinning a genuine interest in schools and creating a system that is equitable and promotes the highest outcomes for all students.

From 2016 those outcomes will be measured in a fundamental shift from threshold achievement A*-C to being a clear judgement on progress, for all children in all grades. Progress will be benched against a KS2 score English and Maths. In the medium term, schools will know in Yr7 what is expected by end of KS4 (as an average across all subjects) with final expectations confirmed in Yr9. In the short run it will not be able to do this, so pupils’ progress will be compared to the national average for their cohort. FFT are drawing up models for individual schools that we will have sent to us. These will tell schools how well they are doing on the new measure.

The measures will be published on the front page of a schools website.  This will be done by the DFE filling a “widget” based on validated data including:

  • Progress 8 (as a plus or minus grade – e.g. “+0.2 grades” or “-0.1 grades”)
  • Average grade (to sub levels e.g. B-)
  • %C in English and Maths
  • %EBacc
  • Destination measure tracked by ULN (retrospective year’s destinations yet to be finalised).

The eight subjects are partially constrained: Maths and English are doubled to reflect their importance. As English Literature and Language now hold parity and can be used in different sections of the 8, the reality is that English and Maths can count for 50% of the Progress 8 figure. In addition any 3 of the Ebacc subjects and then 3 open slots, (including the other English if appropriate a selection from other approved subjects) make up the eight.

Positive progress will be clear regardless of attainment outcomes. Progress will be below floor if it is half a grade down across the cohort. Significant numbers of students not taking the right number of subjects in each basket is clearly one way schools could end up in that position. The connection to curriculum could not be clearer.

Schools who like the new system can opt in a year early.

Issues raised by colleagues:
1. Schools with a 3 year KS4 will experience a year where this potentially has an unavoidable impact and risk falling below floor standard if the options don’t pan out to match the different baskets.

2. Should all students do EBacc? The view discussed around the room was that for those students whose on prior data suggest they are capable of achieving EBacc it is better in the long run for them to be encouraged to do it, with agreed exceptions. The value of Ebacc going forward depends on what employers and universities/colleges make of it. Currently no Russell Group University requests it.

3. In the interim year when Maths and English are on new points and others are not, they will use 1-9 scale and stretch 1-8 to match

4. The point was made that teachers are often accused of playing games. In this instance then, what’s the game? 1. Think of every student, treat them all equally. 2. Think about all grades equally. For some schools will be a big mind shift.

This quite useful recent post also summarises the key changes and makes the links to curriculum that we discussed: Finding the Gaps

There is a reality that all political parties have committed to this route; it seems unlikely to change and is supported by many of the unions and professional bodies.  Every school will want to consider its own context in preparation for these measures. They will apply to students who are currently opting. Their performance, how it is measured and published will have a significant impact on all schools. Few would doubt the importance of English and Maths, but there are some clear messages about the curriculum construction, pathways and number of examinations suitable for our students.   In addressing the questions raised for each of our schools by these changes, there is a greater need for clarity about the principles we hold dear. If schools are to realise the autonomy that is suggested, they will surely need values-led, strong positive leadership. One can only think that ultimately has to be a good thing for all involved, most of all the students.

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